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Mike Schopp's Blog



SCHOPP: Here's to long shots

The weatherman predicted a 10 percent chance of rain today. It rained today. Was the weatherman wrong?

In mid-February the Sabres fell to having a 0.29 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to sportsclubstats.com. Today they are over 68 percent. If they make it, will the website have been wrong?

Your statistics or logic professor probably knows of some terminology for this type of question. Because, however, I'm writing for a website that reviews episodes of The Bachelor and Kim Kardashian's show I don't feel the need to know it.

Neither do I need to know whether the Sabres make the playoffs or not to decide whether to believe in stat-based projections. I know to keep doing it. Statistics are not foolproof, and they're not going to explicitly tell you what in sports will happen next. But they are clues to the truth and to shun them is to intentionally disadvantage yourself.

The Sabres' resurgence though is not so much a matter of testing statistical theory as it is a lesson in faith and devotion. As fans, we're supposed to be the ones that never stop believing, even when our team is two-thirds through the season and about 400-to-1 to make the playoffs.

So how hopeful were you that this would happen?

I'm not asking whether or not you thought the Sabres would make this run. I'm wondering if you stopped considering it possible. I know I did. There were games in January and February that my wife and I simply didn't watch. (And we have DirecTV.) This hadn't happened for us since becoming season-ticket holders in late 2005. I never went to bed not knowing how they did, but I came close.

A challenge for fans can be to remain open to the idea of our teams winning big when not just critical thinking but lots of unfortunate Buffalo sports history stands in our way.

From our standpoint as fans, this kind of season can test our loyalties. But also, when teams seem dead and buried but rise up, we're reminded of how mental pro sports is.

Some roster and lineup maneuvering is surely responsible for some of the Sabres' success. But I give more creedence to the psychological side of things. On that 12-game road losing streak they looked like a team that consistently expected negative outcomes. There was not much emotion evident, or passion. They looked like zombies.

Then they won a game in which they did not impress, pedaling off with a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey just before the All-Star break. That enabled them to exhale. Some internal pressure dissipated, and external pressures already had as most everyone had given up on the team. Gradually, they started to play more relaxed. Eventually the wins started adding up. Lately they've looked unstoppable.

They're probably going to be stopped at some point. I only say probably.

On another day that will come soon enough, the conversation will be about just how well-positioned this team really is to win big in the near future. Being terrible into January and then sprinting past also-rans into a late playoff spot doesn't, without playoff success, ultimately amount to much. I think answering questions about how good the Sabres really can be will be hard.

But as we learned this year it's never easy.


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